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Hootenanny founder bringing free music to the masses

  • Josh Windmiller is the music director of the Wunderkammer festival. Photo taken at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa, California on Wednesday, August 7, 2013. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Josh Windmiller firmly believes that music brings people together. He doesn’t claim to have originated that philosophy, but he’s undeniably putting it into practice on a local level.

Four years after starting his North Bay Hootenanny series, with live music by local bands, Windmiller now presents free concerts at five Sonoma County venues, with shows running at least weekly at each place, and sometimes several times a week.

Windmiller (that’s his stage name) also presents special one-shot shows, and even organizes bus trips for local fans who want to see North Bay bands perform in San Francisco.

“From the very first North Bay Hootenanny, my goal has been to make music accessible, and create an atmosphere for interesting collaborations between members of the community,” Windmiller said.

Windmiller, 31, was born in Marin County and grew up in Santa Rosa as Josh Stithem, the son of local physical therapist John Stithem, who runs Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy in Santa Rosa.

“Sometimes, when you’re starting something new, it’s good to change your identity a little bit,” he said of his professional name. He took the name from a literary hero, Don Quixote, who battled a windmill that he imagined was a giant, he said.

“I made it a verb: to windmill, to battle giants,” he said.

That makes him a “windmiller.” The “giants” are the Internet, television and other media mammoths that mass-manufacture culture and create a gap between performers and their audience, Windmiller reasoned.

He brings a well-educated perspective to his endeavors, with three degrees from Sonoma State University — bachelor’s degrees in liberal studies and theater, both from 2005, and a master’s degree in education from 2010. He also studied arts education in England for a year in 2003.

A seasoned performer as well as a self-made impresario, Windmiller first established himself on the Sonoma County live music scene in 2007, as front man, lead singer and guitarist with the eclectic folk, rock and blues band, The Crux.


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